From Perth To Paris: Confessions of an Expatriate
It is commonly said that Perth is a bit of a ditch, a cultural vacuum, bogan central, a remote city disguised as a large country town, the crippled accomplice to the mining boom, and the list of derogatory, yet seemingly appropriate terms go on. As the title of this online news and opinion blog suggests, Perth is in fact the most isolated city in the world. This does have its benefits, such as being able to leave the city and drive for kilometres and kilometres and have all the space and beautiful bushland to enjoy. However, I would say this attribute has led to more burdens than benefits, in my experience anyway.
I used to attempt to stand on the middle ground in the regular debates friends and I would have concerning Perth’s virtues and downfalls until I found that the latter seemed to make its consequences more exigent in my day to day life as I became older. I began to wonder why does a bottle of wine cost at least 15 bucks and still taste like bad balsamic vinegar? Why does it take me an hour and a half to get to university each day, and by three different modes of public transport too? Why does a university education send us tens of thousands of dollars into debt? My list went on and on and it soon became apparent that my desires in life (such as a cheap and decent bottle of wine) were inherently incompatible with Perth’s offerings. So I decided to take a trip, a trip far away to a new place that I thought could give me fresh insight into how life could be. Paris seemed like a good place to start, and I have now been living in a snug fourteen metre square apartment for the last six months or so. And yes! The grass is in fact greener on the other side, despite the somewhat confined apartment. Or so it seems so far…
I’m sure anyone reading this is aware of Paris’s fame; it’s eminence for being the “city of love”, full of romantic scenery and amazing candle light cuisine. But I have discovered that this is probably not why I find this city so amazing. In fact, my admiration for Paris is more closely rooted in the mentality and the emanating social structure of France on the whole. The idea that a peoples’ mentality can create its social (and governmental) climate is liberating in itself. Perhaps this is because of the French Revolutions (a series of revolts, coups and social reform that started in 1789 and lasted for almost a century) that eventually ended the reign of a socially distanced and tyrannical imperial system and in its place implemented a democratically elected government. It was a sign that the people of a nation could implement actual change in how a country is run, rather than leaving the decision making up to “god’s ambassador” on earth. Today this attitude, that the government is ‘for the people and by the people’ still stands, marking its presence in rallies and protests on an array of issues, most made manifest in huge parades down the Parisian streets. I have seen several such fanfares of banners and chanting, one of which I could see from my sixth story apartment which I had formerly mistaken for a madi gras owing to all the music and noise. Ironically, it was an anti-same-sex marriage protest the day after the proposed Bill 344 and its amendments were passed through parliament, granting same-sex couples the right to marry and to jointly adopt children.
I can honestly say that there are many things that quench my general day to day needs in Paris. I can buy a decent bottle of wine here for the equivalent of about three Australian dollars. I can also get from one side of Paris to the other side in less than half an hour (which is about the same distance I went to get to Curtin University every day when I was in Perth). I have also spoken to many people my age who are currently studying at different universities around Paris, all of which pay a fraction of the amount my fellow Perthanites pay for a university education. But I have also found that it’s not just the trivial benefits that make Paris so liveable and pleasant, but similarly those attributes that proffer a rich cultural dynamic that excludes no one. No one is so ingenuous or unsophisticated as to not appreciate a good ole’ piece of Rembrandt or Van Gogh. The French attitude acknowledges that the local spud farmer may be enlightened in the importance of sustainable farming, the same way that a music theory academic is enlightened in the dynamics of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Everyone is enlightened in their own way and can thus see that others are also geniuses in their own field.
There are numerous other reasons why Paris has seen me become an expat, but I’ll save those details for another time. For now I will leave you with three quirky things you can get up to if you ever end up here:
1. Boogie down in a 12th century dungeon
Caveau De Oubliettes (the cave of the forgotten) is an ex-dungeon that once hosted prisoners of the Middle Ages onto which horrors of torture contraptions and the guillotine were inflicted. Today, the only wails come from the incredible live music, ranging from blues to soul to afro funk, my favourite of which is the afro funk night which gets you up and dancing. The remnants of the bar’s harrowing past are still apparent. One of the stone bricks has something along the lines of ‘Tomorrow I will die, 1548’ carved into it. It was written in French of course and I can’t remember the exact date, but you get the idea of how blatant the city’s past is made, no matter how sinister. I would definitely recommend this place, both for the history lesson and the amazing music.
2. Enjoy an opera in the ‘burbs
Pick a day, any day and I’m sure that there will be an opera playing somewhere in Paris. You may even like to travel to the out suburbs, perhaps a twenty minute train ride from the city, and you will find that the local theatre or opera house will quite likely be showing a classic piece of opera. I was lucky enough to see Haydn’s L’isola Disabitata (The Desert Island) performed in a rather large community theatre in the eastern outer suburbs. I was delighted and rather surprised that along with their parents, grandparents and/or nunus (an endearing name children give to their baby sitters), about half the audient’s worth of children had come to watch the splendour of what is now a fairly underappreciated art form. The programme came with a comic strip, illustrating in bright colours and amusing bird like characters, the unravelling of what is a an epic tale; the usual unlikely, yet entertaining story we see in operas. Needless to say, it was a joy to watch an opera, knowing that most of the people watching with me weren’t at least triple my age.
3. See a baby in a jar
Hidden away in a university Professor’s office is a room turned museum displaying array of human specimens in jars, all of which come with some strange ailment or disease. This is the Musee Dupuytren. First established in 1835, the museum details the speciality of anatomical pathology through an array of crude looking diseases. There are distorted co-joined twins, some of which could be likened to an alien life-form, three century old skeletons displaying the debilitating effects of rickets, diseased penises, and the list goes on. Needless to say, it was really creepy and not for the faint hearted, yet it was incredibly informative. I mean, with such a seemingly huge number of ways for things to go wrong in our bodies, it’s amazing that most of us seemed to have turned out half decent.